Ann Franz, strategic partnerships manager at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and coordinator of the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, has worked throughout her career with both manufacturers and educators. She recently sat down with Associate Editor Nikki Kallio to talk about New North manufacturing, improving the profile of manufacturing among K-12 students, and why area companies should attend the upcoming Manufacturing First Expo & Conference Sept. 26.
We are so fortunate to live in northeast Wisconsin because we have such a diversification of manufacturing, and because of that we’re able to weather the storms when one of those sectors is down. What I’ve been hearing from manufacturers is that they are doing well, and they do feel that 2012 will continue to do well for them.
The Northeast Wisconsin (NEW) Manufacturing Alliance commissions a study each year with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Business Success Center to know what the manufacturing vitality of the region is. When you think 23 percent of all jobs are tied to manufacturing, it’s important that we are able to do a pulse check to see if it’s going to be strong. We found that 94 percent of all the companies polled were either healthy financially or very healthy. That’s significant for our region. We polled manufacturers that had $3 million or more in revenue, plus 25 or more employees. In northeast Wisconsin, 392 companies fall into that parameter, and 193 of those took the telephone survey. That’s what’s so important about having an organization like the NEW Manufacturing Alliance – we’re able to talk directly with manufacturers.
(Exporting) is definitely an area of growth and that’s why at the Manufacturing First Expo & Conference (see page 22) we have a breakout session specific to how manufacturers can be globally competitive. We’re really excited about the conference being able to provide some information for those manufacturers that haven’t gone into that area yet.
Innovation is another big focus of the event – how they’re utilizing innovation on their plant floor to even how they recruit people.
In our study that we did in November 2011, 45 percent of respondents said they couldn’t find the skilled workforce they need. We asked that same question the year before, in November 2010, and it was 29 percent. We will be doing another study in November – it’ll be very interesting to see: Has that improved, or hasn’t it improved? And retirements – as we all know about the baby boomers, no new news there – but that’s going to really start having an impact, so where are you going to fill in that pipeline? Our organization believes it’s critical that we focus on K-12 students.
If we have kids who are not even considering that occupational field, we’re going to be in deep trouble. If one out of four needs to get into manufacturing, but we’re not really saying anything about that – that’s a huge issue. Our organization has really invested a lot in K-12 this past year. To develop that relationship we’re hosting (the night before the Manufacturing First event) the Excellence in Manufacturing and Education Partnership awards, where we’re spotlighting manufacturers and educators working together.
The Northeast Wisconsin Manufacturing Alliance was formed when Paul Rauscher (president of EMT International, see Cover Story, p. 26) called NWTC and said, “Hey, I’m looking over our plant floor and I see a lot of old people.” Paul says it like it is. I met with him first in January 2006 and then in June 2006 with 12 manufacturers. All manufacturers agreed that if we are going to solve this problem, we have to be behind it and lead it.
The first thing that we did was connect individuals who were being dislocated at Georgia Pacific with our employers in the alliance.
The Manufacturing First Expo & Conference is a culmination of all these activities, of showing that we need to come together as manufacturers, to speak in one voice and to connect and work together.